Saturday, 6 Jun 2020 - 14 of Sivan, 5780

Israeli cabinet authorizes use of counter-terrorism technologies to track coronavirus carriers

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The Shin Bet was permitted to use phone data — notably which cell towers the device is connected to — in order to retroactively track the movements of those found to be carriers of the coronavirus in order to see with whom they interacted in the days and weeks before they were tested in order to place those people in quarantine.

The Shin Bet will be limited in what data it collects and who within the government will have access to it. In addition, under the proposal, the  internal security agency will only be able to use the information in the fight against the coronavirus, and the power is scheduled to end 30 days after it is granted by the Knesset subcommittee.

The Israeli government has approved a measure that will use counter-terrorism technologies to track coronavirus carriers by allowing the internal security service (Shin Bet) to track the carriers using their cellphone data and other technologies.

The measure came as the Israeli government enacted new restrictions including the closure of all restaurants, cafes and theaters, and called for offices to have employees work from home.

“We are at war with an enemy: the coronavirus,an invisible enemy,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The proposal, which will give the Shin Bet the legal power to monitor the entire population, has raised significant concerns about its implications on personal privacy.

“We in the government approved — following seven hours of consultations and deep professional discussions, and with many exceptions and structurally built-in protections — the mechanism to electronically block the spread of corona,” Israeli Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich said.

“I can assure you all unequivocally: there isn’t and won’t be a ‘Big Brother’ in the State of Israel, even in the framework of an extreme event like what we are dealing with now,” he added.

The Israeli cabinet held a lengthy discussion on Sunday on authorizing the Shin Beth to assist in the national effort to deal with the spread of the Coronavirus.

The request for the assistance of the ISA came from Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov who provided a detailed opinion on the importance of this need and its activity, as well as a legal opinion, in light of the situation regarding the epidemic.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu was not satisfied with the original wording of the decision and asked that very many reservations be added in order to reduce the scope of the information, the scope of those with access to it, and to ensure that this information would not be used except in the struggle against the coronavirus.

The measure will require final approval from the Knesset’s subcommittee on clandestine services before it can be put into action.

The Shin Bet will be limited in what data it collects and who within the government will have access to it. In addition, under the proposal, the  internal security agency will only be able to use the information in the fight against the coronavirus, and the power is scheduled to end 30 days after it is granted by the Knesset subcommittee.

Government officials stressed that the use of these tools, usually reserved for counterterrorism operations, was meant to save lives.

In recent weeks authorities in Taiwan and Singapore, among other countries, have used cellular phone data to ensure that citizens were abiding by required quarantine orders.

The Shin Bet was permitted to use phone data — notably which cell towers the device is connected to — in order to retroactively track the movements of those found to be carriers of the coronavirus in order to see with whom they interacted in the days and weeks before they were tested in order to place those people in quarantine.

The Shin Bet will relay the information to the Health Ministry, which will send a message to those who were within two meters of the infected person for 10 minutes or more, telling them to go into quarantine.

The cellular data that the Shin Bet will use in the effort already exist, but are not generally accessible to the security agency. The proposal will allow the Shin Bet to use that information without requiring any additional approvals from courts or the government.

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